Books

Love and Death
June 09, 2011

The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg Edited by Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, and Annelies Laschitza Translated by George Shriver (Verso, 609 pp., $39.95) Once upon a time there lived a Jewish lady, of modest stature and of a certain age, who walked with a limp and liked to sing to the birds. Through the bars on her window she would treat the titmice to a Mozart aria, and then await their call, the transcription of which she wished, as she wrote to a friend, to be the only adornment on her grave.

We Don’t Need Oprah’s Book Club
May 25, 2011

What does the future hold for Oprah’s Book Club? While the mogul’s final TV episodes—the last of which airs Wednesday—have brimmed with A-list celebrities, and her June magazine cover proclaims (in approximately size 48 font) a fond farewell to “25 years [of] ... the joy, the laughs, the lessons” on-air, the book club has received little attention from Oprah as the clock winds down on her daily talk show. The last selection for the club (Charles Dickens for the holidays) was a relative bust, and there is no reading-based show or segment currently scheduled on the OWN network.

Visionary Materialism
May 19, 2011

Illuminations By Arthur Rimbaud Translated by John Ashbery (W.W. Norton, 167 pp., $24.95) I. Arthur Rimbaud wrote the texts known as Illuminations between around 1873 and 1875. In those years he lived in London, and in Paris, and at home with his mother and sisters in northern France, and in Stuttgart. In London, George Eliot was writing Daniel Deronda; in Paris, Henry James was writing Roderick Hudson. The majestic Nineteenth Century was everywhere.

A Boy’s Own Story
April 07, 2011

Colonel Roosevelt By Edmund Morris (Random House, 766 pp., $35)  I. The reputation of Theodore Roosevelt has become as bloated as the man himself. No one of course can deny his fundamental significance in American history, as a central player in the transitions from republic to empire, laissez-faire to regulated capitalism, congressional government to imperial presidency. It should come as no surprise that professional historians still pay close attention to his career. What is surprising is the cult-like status that Roosevelt enjoys outside the academy, especially in Washington.

Ideas Rule the World
March 17, 2011

The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays, 1942-2009 By Irving Kristol (Basic Books, 390 pp., $29.95) Daniel Bell, now of blessed memory, used to enjoy recounting a piece of lore from the 1930s, back when New York was said to be the most interesting part of the Soviet Union. It was about the travails of a young member of the Revolutionary Workers League named Karl Mienov. When Mienov’s doctrinal differences with that small party became too great to bear, he split and formed his own cell, the Marxist Workers League. His party even launched a theoretical organ, called Spark.

Studies Show
March 02, 2011

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement By David Brooks (Random House, 424 pp., $27)   Why would David Brooks, the frequently interesting and reasonable-even-when-you-disagree-with-him columnist for The New York Times, write a book offering the latest insights from brain research? And why would he do it by adopting the method pioneered by Rousseau in Émile—that is, by inventing fictional characters whose adventures in life are meant to illuminate larger questions of individual development and social obligation?

The Embroiderer
February 10, 2011

Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin Selected and edited by Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare (Viking, 554 pp., $35) The expression “to embroider the truth” was already current when Sir Walter Raleigh—no mean embroiderer himself—complained about the exaggerations of Greek travelers such as Herodotus. But it could have been invented for the English writer and self-styled nomad Bruce Chatwin instead.

Fitness and Outrage
January 27, 2011

One evening a few months before my eightieth birthday, I found myself addressing an audience of approximately a hundred men and women on a topic to which I have devoted considerable study during the past decade or so.

The Grounds of Courage
January 13, 2011

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy By Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson, 591 pp., $29.99) Early in January 1939, the precocious German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, age thirty-two, learned that all males in his age cohort had been ordered to register with the military. A dedicated opponent of the Nazi regime, he might have responded by declaring himself a conscientious objector, but there were two problems with such a course of action.

Whitewashing
January 10, 2011

I like to think that my bookshelves hold a staggering variety of fiction, that I have the reading tastes of a true eclectic. The truth is, perhaps, a bit less exciting. A wander through my (freakishly organized) shelves will turn up a large amount of nineteenth-century literature, a smattering of modernism, and a hearty amount of “contemporary classics” (a term I despise but can find no substitute for). Some of these pages have yet to be turned, and others look like they have been through a war.

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